5 Takeaways From The CTIC’s Tour Of The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta

As the 2012 Conservation In Action Tour in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta wrapped up a lunch stop and the Conservation Technology Expo at the Mill Creek Gin just north of Clarkston, MS, a light rain that had been briefly pitter-pattering on the facilities’ metal roof morphed into an intense, deafening roar.

Attendees of the trip, which included both local and national producers as well as ag retailer representatives and a variety of extension experts and environmental officials, all immediately flocked to the open Gin doors, enthralled by the prolific rainstorm that was providing much needed moisture to nearby dry fields of corn, soybeans and cotton, among other crops.

As the above example goes to show, growers and ag retailers these days are all concerned with water – both quality and quantity – so here are five takeaways from the 2012 Conservation In Action Tour:

1. Water Quality Monitoring

There is no denying the dramatic increase in farm nutrients found in U.S. waters over the past 50 years, and with an estimated 43% of the phosphorus and 66% of the nitrogen found in the Northern Gulf Hypoxia region coming from crop inputs, making sure the water that enters one of the country’s largest and most crucial watersheds is free of excess nutrients is incredibly important. At Stovall Farms, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in concert with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), has installed water quality monitoring stations around the property, capturing valuable data on nutrient levels in the waters that could potentially leave owner Pete Hunter’s 4,800-acre operation and enter the regions alluvial aquifer before heading downstream to the Gulf.

“We’re trying to tell a story here in the Delta, and that story is: What’s going on with our ground water, and how can we address water quality via best management practices,” says Matt Hicks, USGS Aquatic Ecologist. “In my opinion, it’s going to be monitoring that will make this story a success story, and we need to give growers the data to make proper water management decisions.”

2. Water Quantity Also Crucial

In a region where agricultural operations reportedly consume between 90%-95% of the available groundwater, ensuring a supply of not only clean, but plentiful fresh water for future generations is top priority. Growers throughout the Delta are taking this issue to heart, as witnessed when attendees toured the 20-acre tail-water recovery reservoir on Stovall Farms, which allows the operation to capture and reuse nearly all the water and nutrients it sprays on fields. Not only does the reservoir allow for the recycling of water and nutrients, it also allows for an additional filtering of the water before it is reapplied to the field. Although Hunter and other growers in attendance admit it can be a tough decision for a producer to make, as in Hunter’s case it required removing 20 acres of farmable land from production, the benefits of installing a recovery reservoir are quite tangible. Early NRCS and USGS estimates point to a 75% reduction in overall groundwater use over a ten year period, as well as a 50% reduction in run off, and Hunter estimated that it had already saved his operation by reducing energy costs 3/5ths.

“This is a major commitment for the land owner and a long term investment in the land, and it comes at a great cost to the grower” says Hunter of the tail-water reservoir. “But the laws of farming have changed, and we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got. We’ve got to keep everything that we have on the farm, on the farm.”

Adds NRCS area engineer Paul Rodrigue, “Most conservation in the Delta simply comes down to preventing runoff. In that regard, these tail-water recovery systems are a win-win-win situation – they address both water quality and water conservation, and they help reduce hypoxia, making sure those nutrients aren’t ending up in the Gulf.”

3. Expanding Irrigation

According to Charlotte Bird of the Mississippi DEQ Surface Water Division, prior to the 1970s irrigation was extremely limited in the Delta. Then, in 1979, an increase in rice production, to the tune of 340,000 acres in Mississippi alone, dramatically changed that. As anyone with knowledge of rice production can tell you, rice requires water, and lots of it. Factor in the variability of the regions rainfall, half of which falls during the months of December and January, when no crops are in the ground, and one gets the picture of just how important irrigation best practices are to sustainable agriculture in the region. Today, estimates peg the percentage of the Delta’s 3 million acres at 80% irrigated, and the increase in water supply has allowed many in the region to switch from cotton to corn, increasing profit margins. “We cannot grow corn in the Delta without irrigation with the variability of our rains,” says Bird.

Travis Satterfield, a producer from nearby Benoit, MS, agrees. “We as producers have come to depend on irrigation in the Delta, so it is very important to continue expanding this practice,” he said. “Conservation is key when it comes to water use here.”

4. Restoration of Coastal Ecosystems

During the third and final stop on the tour, attendees perused one of the more unique farming operations in Williams Farm, a progressive, research-friendly farm where “soybeans, corn and cotton production co-exist with white-tail deer, bobwhite quail and native waterfowl.” At Williams, 48% of the land acres produce row crops while 30% support hardwood reforestation. Herbaceous wetlands, conservation buffers, forest and herbaceous drains make up the balance.

John Gruchy, coordinator of the Private Lands Habitat Program within the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP), consulted with owner Trey Cooke, who also serves as executive director of the Delta Farmers Advocating Resource Management (Delta F.A.R.M.), creating and implementing wildlife conservation strategies that provide multiple benefits. For example, the many native warm season grass buffers installed between fields provide a habitat for both game and non-game species, such as pollinators, and they also have shown use in biofuel production as well as water quality improvement.

“With 50% of North American birds passing through the Mississippi Alluvial Valley yearly, and 70% off all North American Mallard, we’ve got to make sure there are suitable habitats for wildlife,” says Gruchy.

Now, the Delta ranks 12th nationwide in Conservation Reserve Program Acres and 1st in the country in forest and buffer acres. But it’s not just aviary animals that producers are interested in.

“The Mississippi Delta at one time was the premier habitat for black bear,” informs Gruchy. “When Teddy Roosevelt wanted to shoot a bear back in 1902, he came to the Mississippi Delta to do it.”

According to the MDWFP, there is evidence that black bear populations are slowly increasing in Mississippi, and recent efforts by the group, alongside Farm Bill programs like the Wetlands Reserve Incentive Program, have been a catalyst. In March 2012, a Mississippi NRCS report estimated the state’s black bear populations at 120 bears, an increase of over 50% from a 2006 count, a sign that Delta growers are successfully stewarding their lands as these discerning species return to their native habitats.

5. Continued Collaboration

As you have probably already noticed, partnerships and collaboration have gone a long way in increasing growers’ awareness of conservation best practices in the Delta. Between the MDEQ, MDWFP, Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (MRGMWNTF), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Delta F.A.R.M., Delta Council, NRCS, Mississippi State University Extension offices, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, the Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Commission and the USGS, as well as the efforts of private organizations such as the CTIC, Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, The Fertilizer Institute, Mosaic and the National Farmers Union, many, many groups have had a hand in shining a light on preservation and conservation efforts throughout the region. This is a trend NRCS Chief Dave White would like to see continued nationally.

“Something is bringing these groups together, and that something is conservation, and I think it is just perfect,” says White. “If I had my druthers, these programs and partnerships in the Delta would be expanded throughout the country. The fate of the environment will hinge on our ability to come together and help educate and guide millions of growers to make the right decisions.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Stewardship Stories

Young Corn Field
StewardshipStudy: Ohio Farmers Doing ‘A Good Job Of Managing’ Phosphorus Levels
September 27, 2016
Leaders from Ohio’s largest grain farming organizations announced today that Ohio farmers are doing their part in effectively managing phosphorus Read More
StewardshipMonsanto Invests $1.6 Million In System To Quantify Greenhouse Gas Reductions
September 23, 2016
The USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) recently awarded the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and its Soil Health Read More
Wilbur-Ellis Sedgwick Grand opening 2015
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Receives ResponsibleAg Certification At Sedgwick Location
September 9, 2016
Wilbur-Ellis Co., a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution of crop protection products, announces the ResponsibleAg certification Read More
Ford B. West Center For Responsible Agriculture, Asmark Institute
StewardshipResponsibleAg Conducts 1000th Audit
September 7, 2016
In less than two years ResponsibleAg has enrolled more than 2,100 facilities and recently completed its 1,000th audit. Yara’s West Read More
Trending Articles
Corn Field
Eric SfiligojFacing Ag Industry Challenges
September 26, 2016
At the 2016 annual Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) meeting in September, a pair of crop protection company representatives discussed Read More
Bayer Monsanto
Crop InputsBayer-Monsanto Mega-Merger: 6 Things You Need To Know
September 14, 2016
Mega mergers have become almost routine in the agricultural industry. Right on the heels of Monday’s news that fertilizer giants Potash Read More
Potash Corp Agrium
Crop InputsAgrium, Potash Corp To Merge To Create $36 Billion Company
September 12, 2016
Canada’s Agrium Inc. and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc. have agreed to combine in a deal that would create a Read More
Osage Co-op Elevator Osage, IA Finished Building
OpinionAre We Crazy?
September 8, 2016
At some point in the first few months of my employment here at CropLife® magazine, I started getting curious about Read More
ManagementMAGIE 2016 Highlights and Deere Anti-Trust
September 1, 2016
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj discusses the recent Midwest AG Industries Exposition and the Department of Justice’s objection to John Deere Read More
ASMARK 2016 Retailers Live! Tour - CPS
CropLife 100CPS Acquires Texas Retail Operation
August 23, 2016
Crop Production Services (CPS) has acquired the assets of Larry’s Chemical and Spray, Inc., for an undisclosed amount in an Read More
Latest News
ManagementThoughts on CropLife America and the PSM Appeal
September 29, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the recent CropLife America annual meeting and the successful appeal of the Read More
Corn Field
Industry NewsMarrone Bio Innovations’ SVP And Chief Sustainability O…
September 29, 2016
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc., a leading provider of effective and environmentally responsible pest management and plant health products, announced today Read More
Young Corn Field
StewardshipStudy: Ohio Farmers Doing ‘A Good Job Of Managing…
September 27, 2016
Leaders from Ohio’s largest grain farming organizations announced today that Ohio farmers are doing their part in effectively managing phosphorus Read More
Growmark FS Outlet
Industry NewsGROWMARK To Purchase Suncor’s Share Of UPI
September 26, 2016
GROWMARK and Suncor have reached an agreement in which GROWMARK will purchase Suncor’s 50% interest in UPI, Inc. in Ontario, Read More
Corn Field
Eric SfiligojFacing Ag Industry Challenges
September 26, 2016
At the 2016 annual Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) meeting in September, a pair of crop protection company representatives discussed Read More
Syngenta Seedcare Institute
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Opens New North America Seedcare Institute In …
September 23, 2016
Syngenta unveiled its new Seedcare Institute in Stanton, MN, during a recent grand opening celebration. More than 150 industry leaders, Read More
StewardshipMonsanto Invests $1.6 Million In System To Quantify Gre…
September 23, 2016
The USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) recently awarded the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and its Soil Health Read More
Pipe rack
LegislationCourt Sides With Ag Retailers On PSM
September 23, 2016
The D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act when Read More
ManagementPacific Coast Fertilizer Announces Interest In Longview…
September 22, 2016
Pacific Coast Fertilizer LP (PCF) announced at the Cowlitz Economic Development Council board of directors meeting its interest in developing Read More
Young corn plants in soil
UncategorizedCool Planet Raises Additional $9 Million To Commerciali…
September 22, 2016
Cool Planet has announced the first close of a new financing round to commercialize the company’s Cool Terra Engineered Biocarbon Read More
Crop InputsJim Loar Promoted To President And CEO Of Cool Planet
September 22, 2016
In a move that reflects and reinforces the company’s commitment to the agricultural market, the Cool Planet board of directors Read More
BlendersNorth Dakota Coop Debuts Dry Fertilizer Plant
September 22, 2016
North Central Grain Cooperative has begun operations at a new dry fertilizer plant at its Rolla, ND, site. It is Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto, Bayer Officials Defend Proposed $66 Billion M…
September 21, 2016
Top officials for Monsanto and Bayer defended their proposed $66 billion merger before skeptical senators on Tuesday, insisting that the Read More
ManagementUpcoming Shows & Recent Events
September 19, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about upcoming trade shows and events and review the Mid America CropLife Association Read More
Industry NewsVerdesian Life Sciences Appoints New CEO
September 19, 2016
Verdesian Life Sciences, a plant health and nutrition company, today announced that its board of directors has named Kenneth M. Avery Read More
Corn
Crop InputsEPA Settles With Syngenta For Alleged Multi-Regional Pe…
September 19, 2016
The U.S. EPA has announced a multi-region settlement with Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC (Syngenta) in Greensboro, NC, for alleged violations of Read More
ManagementMerger Mania
September 16, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss this week’s mega-ag mergers of Bayer and Monsanto and Potash and Agrium. Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Ends Up Being A Bargain For Bayer
September 16, 2016
History will say Bayer got a bargain in its $66 billion purchase of Monsanto, writes David Nicklaus, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Read More